Thursday, April 19, 2012
One of the most recognized flags across the world is USA's star spangled banner. This red white and blue symbol, along with the playing of its national anthem evokes powerful emotions, especially at the Olympic Games. And many other countries take similar pride in its national symbols. Jamaica is no different. The colours of our flag are black green and gold, and we are all looking forward to the Games of the XXX Olympiad to be held in London this summer, when our Track and Field athletes are expected to do well, and thus the expectations are that we will see the flag hoisted high many times. A country then, without a flag is a nation bereft of pride and dignity. It is in this context that a veritable political firestorm erupted in my country this week, when in preparation for a civic ceremony, the backdrop for the function, shaped in the form of the flag, had one colour missing. The colour associated with the opposition party - green. The ruling party's colour being orange. So far one person has been fired. So far two high ranking officers of the governing party have issued statement condemning the action taken by whomsoever. So far the talk shows have been inundated with callers who are angry, extremely angry about the whole incident. The entire affair, regardless of the reason is most regrettable, as the lesion is clear. Do not "mess" with a nation's symbols. In the midst of this debate, the Lord spoke very clearly to me, not using the same language in respect of the " liberty" taken with the Jamaican flag, but the message is the same. Without the Cross, those who profess to follow Christ, have lost their way, and therefore, have no power to be " salt and light " to a troubled world. The Cross, as the symbol of the Christian faith then, is sacrosanct, as without it there is no power in the religion that is left. Just talk. And the Bible is very clear, and the Lord reminded me this week, that " The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power". The backdrop to this is that year after year, around this time, many so called philosophers and learned men, and just, "plain old", men of wickedness who, wanting an excuse to disobey the living God and indulge in their immoral lifestyle, spend a lot of time writing in the newspapers making spurious claims about the Risen Christ. " There was no Resurrection" , is the most popular. " Jesus was, and is, not God", is another. But as bad as they sound, even with their blasphemous thoughts and writings, they are not the problem. The bigger problem resides in those sects, who still attract the label " Christian", and who ignoring the profound change in the history and status of God's " chosen" people - ultimately those who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour, but for all mankind a free gift available to everybody - wrought on the Cross of Calvary, which ushered in the " Kingdom of God", wish to take us back to the days of the Old Covenant. Thus seeking to remove, replace, or avoid the Cross, as the only place where God, who is always doing a " new thing", decided in His divine wisdom, before the creation of the world, to show His mercy, His power, His justice, and ultimately His " Amazing Grace". All in and through the Crucified One - Jesus Christ of Nazareth, descended from David, born of the Virgin Mary, and raised from the dead with power. I heard one of them on a very popular radio programme this evening, " Religious Hard Talk", asserting that we should be celebrating the Old Testament feasts, including the Passover, and that we should celebrate the Lord's Supper with water, as " Blood and Water" flowed from Jesus' side when He was stuck with the spear of the Roman soldier. I don't include the Seventh day Adventists in this conspiracy, as I know that in their hearts, and from their actions , they do not seek to undermine the importance of the cross. Although I believe that they face serious questions about their focus on " Keeping the Sabbath", when clearly Jesus' Atoning Blood on the Cross, " set aside the Old ( covenant) for the New. And, even worse when one considers the the Biblical assertion that " all who rely on the law are under a curse". Finally there is an even more pernicious problem. Those Christians who attend churches that teach the clear doctrine of the central importance of the Cross, but seek to escape the implications for such a realty. The essence of the problem can best be summed up in the different reactions to the end of Lent. The one who truly follows Christ, moves from Lent, and Good Friday and the glorious Resurrection, back to Good Friday, as one of our Pastors pointed out in a very profound sermon on Good Friday. In the sense that we follow what St Paul says when he declares that " We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body". 1 Cor. 4:10 NIV. Others, seek to "graduate " from Lent, and head back to the things that they gave up, rather than choosing to continue to " suffer' with Christ, the various disciplines which served them well during this Holy period. Hence the growth of churches and zeal individuals who, though multiplying in numbers, have little or no influence on the society. Which brings me to another level of the backdrop against which we must view the importance of the cross. This week, one of our regular columnists in the respected Daily Gleaner, Peter Espeut, shared a perspective on the recent revelations of child abuse, which arrested my attention. Inter alia, he wrote about the paradox of a society steeped in promotion of sex as a commodity, bereft of the restraints that mature persons should apply, resulting in various social disorders, and nation is then is surprised by the level child abuse which is now being revealed in horrific details by a young and troubled physician. Then he publicly turns over the problem to the Minister of Education to provide the kind of base from which a society can rescue itself from such a challenge. This then is the conundrum the society faces. As those who would so publicly ridicule the foundations of the Christian faith, know full well, that throughout our history, the only institution that has an enviable track record of rescuing the Jamaican society from its moral and social ills is the church of the Cross. Power, not talk. From our national hero, and Baptist Minister Sam Sharpe, who galvanized the slaves to rise up against this inhuman and unjust institution because of what happened on the Cross of Calvary; from the many, many Christian leaders who provided education for the newly freed slaves and dedicated themselves to " free our people from mental slavery', including some of the very same ones who are now writing all "garbage" in the newspapers, all because of the Cross, to the many individual Christian men and women who have set the right example for family life by restraining their natural appetites, thus providing the base for a previously stable society, all because they chose to follow the way of the cross. And to our shame and regret, it is precisely because we as a society have elected as the children of Israel did, to their detriment to, " forsake me the the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water". Jeremiah 2: 13 . So the question is how will this new administration, no just the line minister, " fix" this problem, if those so charged, do not chose to follow the way of the cross. I would suggest that the following verse of Scripture, sent to members of my church this week during my early morning devotions, if understood properly against the backdrop of what took place on the Cross of Calvary could go a far way in assisting our leaders By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this compete healing". Acts 3:16 NIV...one of the readings for tomorrow. There is another problem, with the understanding of the foundation of the Christian faith, which has to do with its practice as well as the symbols. And one of these is the whole issue of prayer, about which the Lord led me to send a message this week, to members of my own church. And now, O Father, mindful of the love ............... Look, Father, look on his anointed face, and only look on us as found in him; look not on our misusings of thy grace, our prayer so languid, and our faith so dim; for lo! Between our sins and their reward we set the passion of thy Son our Lord LUTHER ON PRAYER Martin Luther Verse Luke 18:1 Upright Christians pray without ceasing, though they they pray not always with their mouths, yet their hearts pray continually, sleeping and wakening; for the sigh of a true Christian is a prayer. As the Psalmist saith: " Because of the deep sighing of the poor, I will rise up saith the Lord"....( see Psalm 12: 5 KJV). In like manner a true Christian always carries the cross, though he feels it not always. The Lord's prayer binds the people together, and knits them one to another, so that one prays for another and together with one another; and it is so strong and powerful that it drives away the fear of death. Prayer preserves the church, and hitherto has done the best for the church; therefore we must ask continually pray. Hence Christ says : " Ask, and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you" ( see Luke 11:9, KJV)........... Again the issue of forgiveness, which the great act of Atonement issued from the Cross provides, forms the only basis, for this new relationship with God our Father. And which them leads to confident prayers, which can heal a nation. Finally another Word from the Lord sent during the week. All related to this issue of the centrality of the Cross of Christ Very strong thought from the Lord today. The constant reminder in the Old Testament is how God rescued the children of Israel from Pharaoh and his army. It is the defining moment in OT history, and time and time again, this great act by God, redeeming His people, appears in many books of the OT. In fact God himself declared that the whole world would know of His greatness through this act of rescue. No other story receives this level of attention. Not even the wonderful story of Abraham and Isaac! Not even the miracle of the Jews crossing the Jordan and the fall of Jericho . Hence the Jews remember their " redemption" from Egypt by celebrating" The Passover". What is the defining moment of rescue in the New Testament? What is the great act of atonement by which the entire world now knows about the compassion and mercy of God? Is is not the suffering endured by our Lord on Good Friday and the victory over Sin, Death and Evil, announced on Easter. So just as the children of Israel celebrate the " Passover", so must we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord. But there is more. We are called not to only to be Easter people, but redeemed people whose lives are now shaped in every way by the Cross of Calvary. We are called therefore, like St. Paul, to be crucified in Christ...and therefore we no longer live....but Christ lives in us....in community with others. So just as how the news of God's power spread throughout the world because of the great redemption in Egypt, so too will God's power be manifest in us, as we live " crucified lives". That's the great challenge for the church as we live our lives, " fighting valiantly against evil", in every situation into which the Lord sends us, or allows to take place. How to live a crucified life? We start by being aware of the challenge and continue by being determined to be obedient. Regardless of where we are, or who we are, or what we face. Peace. LWJ So it is the duty of every Christian to resist the devil's attempt to " mess with the Cross of Calvary". As from this great act of grace flows all the power of the Living God. And which is the only power that rescue a nation deeply mired in Sin and economic woes. Pandering to the our own desires, the temptations that surround us daily and the wickedness of Satan, cannot help a nation deeply distressed by the abuse of our most precious gifts - the children of today and the adults of tomorrow. So we glory in the Cross of Christ, we pray without ceasing and with confidence, sing and worship because we are happy and redeemed, and dedicate ourselves to the rescuing of our neighbours, body mind and soul, to effect a complete healing, as they too are loved by our Saviour, as He died for us all on the Cross of Calvary. .....Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord to the cross where thou hast died, draw me nearer, nearer,nearer blessed Lord to thy precious bleeding side. The Refrain from " I am thine O Lord. I have thy voice and it told thy love to me...... Amen.